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Depth issues too much to overcome in March

It’s been ten years since the Blue Devils reached the Final Four behind the rallying cry “Eight is Enough.” That 2001-02 team lost two players to December transfers, leaving the team with just eight players heading into the conference season. Yet behind All-American Alana Beard, that team still managed to reach the Final Four.

This year’s Blue Devils are faced with the same predicament, as injuries to Amber Henson and Richa Jackson, along with the suspension of Chloe Wells, have left the team with just eight scholarship players. Unfortunately the similarities end there, and inevitably, so will the outcome. There are simply too many factors working against Duke for the team to replicate the 2002 trip to the Final Four.

Whereas the 2001-02 team had most of the season to adapt to a new rotation and proceeded to rip off 22 straight wins, this year’s team lacks that luxury. The Blue Devils first lost Wells and Henson in January, and just two weeks ago saw Jackson go down with a torn ACL. In the three games since, Duke has struggled to adjust. The Blue Devils lost their first game sans Jackson to Maryland, their first ACC loss this season. Next, Miami nearly defeated Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, when with less than five minutes remaining, the Hurricanes cut a 14-point lead down to just three. Finally, last Sunday, against the same North Carolina squad Duke had beaten by 40 with Jackson a month ago, the Blue Devils barely edged out a victory after blowing a 17-point lead.

Additionally Duke’s rotation isn’t even eight players strong. While the 2002 squad had all eight players averaging at least 17 minutes a game, this year’s team essentially can go only seven deep. Little-used freshman Ka’lia Johnson has only played seven total minutes following Jackson’s injury. Come postseason play, who is head coach Joanne P. McCallie supposed to turn to when Duke finds itself in foul trouble? McCallie must already be holding her breath every time a Duke player hits the floor, especially after forward Haley Peters needed 20 stitches to close a gash on her lip Sunday against the Tar Heels. One more Duke injury will almost certainly cripple any Final Four dreams.

Furthermore, there is the problem of the bracket. The 2002 team earned a No. 1 seed, allowing the Blue Devils to avoid another elite team until the Final Four. This year’s squad won’t be as lucky. No. 5 Duke is widely projected to enter the tournament as a No. 2 seed, setting up a potential matchup with one of college basketball’s top four teams in the Elite Eight, either Baylor, Stanford, Notre Dame or Connecticut.

Freshman Elizabeth Williams may well be one of the best post players in the country, but even the most optimistic fan can’t relish a matchup with Brittney Griner and the undefeated Bears. Being placed in a bracket with Stanford would likely mean having to travel out west to Fresno, essentially giving the Cardinal home-court advantage. Skylar Diggins and Notre Dame, fresh off an appearance in the title game last season, have already beaten a full-strength Duke team once this season back in November.

Finally of course, the Blue Devils could see the Huskies, a familiar foe, in the Elite Eight. Duke and Connecticut have met four times in the past three seasons, although most Blue Devil fans would likely prefer to forget those memories. The Huskies have won all four games by an average of 30 points, including last year’s 35-point rout with a trip to the Final Four on the line. At Cameron earlier this season, Duke put up its best fight in recent years, losing by just 16.

Pick your poison with the NCAA elite­—in the past Duke has proven unable to get past Connecticut, and the No. 4 Huskies are a clear step below the other three teams.

This year’s squad has faced a lot of adversity this season. Unfortunately for Duke, eight just won’t be enough for a trip to the Final Four this year.


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